Early April 2023
For my earlier exploratory trip on the Blackwater River, see https://hooknfly.com/2019/04/26/collier-seminole-state-park-surprise-serendipitous-snook/
After months of drought, with nary a drop of rain in January in Everglades City and not much more in February and March, the forecast is for the rainy season to begin in earnest later this week–rain every day along with winds gusting to 25 mph. I figure I’d better get out soon before I hunker down, and tomorrow the rain is supposed to hold off till 5 p.m. I have my sights set on the Blackwater River in Collier-Seminole State Park outside Naples. I haven’t fished the river for almost three years, courtesy of Covid followed last fall by Hurrican Ian which blasted the park and shut it down till recently. My last trip the fish were cooperative, so it’s time for some serious ichthylogical investigation to see how the finned creatures have fared.
Background: Collier-Seminole State Park is a great place for family outings. It is well-maintained and features a big playground, picnic shelters, bank fishing, a campground, canoe/kayak rentals, nature tours, and lots of history. The huge walking dredge, a national historic engineering landmark, was used to build the Tamiami Trail, and a recreated Seminole Indian village are of particular note.
The park, created in 1981, covers more than 7,000 acres of mangrove swamp including everything that goes with it—seeing alligators, manatees, swallowtail kites, jumping manta rays, and slithering snakes were some of nature’s gifts during my day of paddling last time out. The park’s name is a bit of an odd mishmash including as it does the name of the wealthy advertising mogul Barron Collier who opened the Everglades for the white man by running a road from the west to the east coast of Florida, sounding the death knell for the old ways of the Seminole Indian tribe, the Native Americans who lived and thrived in the watery environment. (For more on the fascinating Barron Collier, see my article on the Barron River from November 2016.) But modern Florida is replete with odd juxtapositions like this. After all, Mar-A-Lago and all of its political intrigue isn’t all that far from this wild place.
Collier owned most of what is now Collier County—over a million acres–and originally created a park here to preserve a rare stand of Royal Palms. Later it was donated to the county and was named to memorialize Collier and those who fought on both sides of the Seminole Wars in the 1800s. The county donated the land to the state in 1947.
Today I decide to concentrate on the upper stretch of the river between the boat ramp where the river begins and Mud Bay, about two miles downstream. If I fish the river and several tidal creeks feeding into it, I should be about to cover this section and get back to the ramp before the rain that is predicted to hit around 5 p.m.
If you go this route, be sure to grab a park kayaking route map at the ranger station, but better yet, have a GPS app on your cell phone to help navigate and keep you oriented. Fortunately, you’ll likely have cell service the entire trip as well as access to Google Maps to keep you from getting lost.
When I arrive just after the park opens minutes after 8 a.m., a few campers are out walking or on their bicycles, but no one is at the boat ramp or on the water. The water is dead calm for now with a temperature of about 82 degrees. Air temperatures will reach about 85 degrees, but much of the route is in shade, making for a very pleasant day. The sky is clear, but can already see clouds and a few thunderheads already starting to form to the northeast. I hurriedly unload my gear and Hobie Outback pedal yak and am on the water by 8:30 a.m.
Fortunately, the hordes of mosquitos and other bugs the park is known for are apparently still in bed. The first section of the river, about a half-mile long, looks to be an old canal that is straight as a board and deep—not the most alluring fishing stretch.
The kayak rental consession at the park is still apparently closed, so I won’t have to worry about being run over by any ecotours. I’m using my usual Everglades rig—a light/medium 6 ½-foot rod with a 2500 series spinning reel loaded with 30# test line and leader. I also have at the ready my trusty short 6-foot rod that is better suited for casting in the tight mangrove tunnels I will explore. My lure of choice is a white a curly tail mounted on a ¼ oz. red jig head. It’s a locally produced lure by Mr. Whifflelure of Chokoloskee, Florida. I will try a variety of lures throughout the day, but it is the only one that produces consistently.
As I start down the long canal, I see something busting bait on the northeast corner of the boat basin, but after a dozen casts come up empty. Last trip I had a big snook flash at my lure, but no action today despite all the glass minnows and mullet darting about. I head on downstream and see Hurrican Ian’s aftermath–here and there mangrove trees have been topple into the water. On my prior trip I didn’t get any action in the canal but am hoping these new deadfalls and snags will provide some good hiding spots for snook. But alas, I come up empty again.
I soon reach the first kayak route marker, a bright #58 pinned to a tall post at the mouth of a small tidal creek that joins from the east. The tide is falling with a good flow which makes me think there should be some snook stacked up at the mouth intercepting food being washed out of the creek right to them.
I cast my lure up a few feet into the mouth under some overhanging mangrove branches and sure enough a snook nails it…or should I say snooklet–he’s barely 12 inches long. Talk about the eyes being bigger than the stomach! Another Lilliputian follows, this one pushing 13-inches!
I fish the entire mouth thoroughly, but no more strikes so push up into the creek, slithering between and under overhanding mangrove branches and roots, using my short 6-foot rod to pitch backhand and pendulum casts ahead of me into likely looking spots. Although the creek looks like a perfect hideout for snook, like last trip I come up empty. Soon I hit a blockage of big downed mangrove trees that Ian felled and have to reverse course.
The tide is still falling, but the flow is ebbing. The closest tide gauge is out in Pumpkin Bay, several miles away, and last time on the river the tide on the Blackwater was running about five hours behind Pumpkin Bay. Oddly today timing is close to the same–a low tide around 11 a.m. at .58 feet and then a rising tide to 2.69 feet at around 4:30 p.m.
As I continue downstream on the river as it becomes more serpentune, I take time to fish the new nooks, crannies, and snags that Hurricane Ian has bestowed. But try as I may, even working my way back into several thickets, I come up empty.
Finally I glide into an opening in the river at Marker #49 where a tidal creek joins from the west. This is where the fishing got hot on my last trip, and old 49 doesn’t disappoint.
On my very first cast a feisty 15-incher nails the curly tail and does an impressive dance across the surface. I end up catching another half dozen in this wide spot, one nudging 20-inches.
Now I am casting and probing more seriously. From here till I get to the fork leading to Mud Bay and continue to Mud Bay itself, I explore areas where the river widens with shallows as well as several more feeder creeks with long mangrove tunnels.
One side creek sliding in from the west leads all the way to a couple of hidden lakes north of Mud Bay. I work my way slowly up the creek under the mangroves and manage to fool a couple of snook pushing 20-inches before the tunnel ends in a maze of downed mangrove limbs. On another that dead ends further down I do a long-distance release on a big mama snook then hook into a high-jumping baby tarpon that was hiding among one of the nastiest snags imaginable. After six big leaps, with great reluctance he finally comes to the boat for a photo and quick release.
Feeling rather smug, I decide to pause for lunch, but before I can break out the victuals, the rain lets loose. I scramble to don my rain coat then huddle under some leafy mangrove limbs and manage to stay reasonably dry. When the rain finally ends and the sun breaks back out, I pedal back to the main river and kick up my feet for a leisurely bite to eat in the shade, washed down with some RC elixir. As I munch, I hear a motorboat approaching. As it rounds the bend above, I am relieved to see it’s a couple in a rubber raft with a small motor. The aren’t carrying any fishing rods. They are the only people I will see all day.
Later in the afternoon I head back to the ramp, stopping to revisit the creek mouths I had fished in the morning. Surprisingly, the fish act like they have never seen the curly tail and are still famished. I manage a half dozen or so at each stop, including the biggest snook of the day, a frisky 22-incher.
I am back at the ramp around 5 p.m., the Blackwater having shared its bounty with me. I haven’t seen another angler all day, and the fish have been exceedingly cooperative. Now, I receive a warm welcome from the hungry no-see-ums, which hasten my loading up and hitting the road. I intend to celebrate with a Yuengling beer at Stan’s Idle Hour in nearby Goodland along with a fresh fish basket and sweet potato fries. Life’s good!!
4 thoughts on “The Bountiful Blackwater River (Collier-Seminole State Park, Florida)”
When are you heading back to Colorado? Your spacious room awaits, if you’re coming this way. Don Pepper’s Restaurant had a great menu. We might just take a trip South before you head north. Hope all is going well.
Thanks for the story of your trip. I did the same trip in mid-March and was thrilled to catch 23″ and 18″ snook, along with a half-dozen smaller ones. I was also stymied in my attempts to navigate the feeder creeks. I didn’t try Mud Lake this year. From another trip back a few years, I remember watching the big rays accelerating out of the shallow water around me.
Thanks for recommending Halfway Creek. Didn’t see anything big, but had lots of action with smaller snook.
Looking forward to fishing the Arkansas this summer. With all the snow out west, it may well be the first Colorado river to become fishable after runoff.
Thanks again. Steve Clough
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Hi Steve. Good to hear you did ok on Halfway Creek. The fishing has been up and down on it this spring. I got that tarpon on one of the Blackwater feeder creeks. Was a challenge to get through that mangrove tunnel but paid off. Chris
I thought my Hobie Lynx could slip through some of those mangrove tunnels but no luck. Maybe I need to bring some pruners along. That was nice-size tarpon for a tight bit of river like the Blackwater. No tarpon for me this trip.
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